Early Modern Economic Theology and Oikonomia in the Merchant of Venice

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The primary purpose of this article is to survey the issue of oikonomia and risk management in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice in terms of economic theology. In the theology of the Apostle Paul, 'oikonomia' signifies God's miraculous dispensation to guide human souls to salvation. Nonetheless, today's economic theologians, including Giorgio Agamben, have demonstrated that its meaning has been gradually secularised, developing into capitalist ideas semantically covering concepts such as risk calculation, shaping human conduct to market conformity, and business administration. Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice is an intriguing narrative, situated at the historical juncture where the idea of oikonomia was secularised by mediating Christian theology with capitalist ideologies. The paradox of this comedy, in which nobody is killed and nobody goes bankrupt, is that uncalculating and abandoned risk management becomes proper administration. It is thus not surprising to see the idea of 'mercy' as the theme of the play, approaching the meaning of 'dispensation', an English translation of 'oikonomia'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-61
Number of pages20
JournalLiterature and Theology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Mar 1

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press 2022; All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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